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Tayla Katz - Dvar Torah

Rabbi Greg, congregation, family and friends

Thank you for joining me to celebrate my Bat Mitzvah. When a young girl reaches the age of Bat Mitzvah – 13 years in the progressive Shul, she assumes a greater maturity in her connection to her own identity. According to the Torah, she is then capable of taking responsibility for her own actions - arriving at the crossroads of moral and spiritual decision making. Being a teenager isn’t easy, but being a teenage girl in today’s world, thank you social media, is even more challenging.

My Parsha, the passage or section from the Torah assigned for weekly reading, is called Metzorah. This has particular relevance to me and my Katz Family since people with the surname Katz, which is abbreviated from the word Kohein Tzedek, are the descendants of the most righteous priests. My passage refers to these priests which means that my grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather is mentioned in my own Parsha.

My Parsha Metzorah is from the Book of Leviticus, the third book of the Torah. Most of its chapters consist of God's speeches to Moses, which God commands Moses to repeat to the Israelites. This takes place within the story of the Israelites' Exodus after they escaped Egypt and reached Mount Sinai. The instructions of Leviticus emphasize ritual, legal and moral practices rather than beliefs. The book teaches that faithful performance of the sanctuary rituals can make that possible, so long as the people avoid sin and impurity whenever possible.

The focus of my Parsha is about “Gossip” or Lashon Hara, the term for derogatory speech about another person. The punishment for Lashon Hara is an unthinkable skin disease called Tzara’at. This disease comes about on account of being guilty of at least one of seven sins including murder or theft. The most grave Sin is Lashon Hara or as we know it Gossip. This may surprise you. However, Gossip is regarded as a triple murder threat - each time someone speaks badly of others, it is like killing three people. So who is dying?

Firstly the Person Speaking is being killed in the eyes of God. That person has been given the gift of speech, and he or she is using it to pit one person against another, to put others down and to speak of other people's private business. On another level, he or she is being killed in the eyes of all those who are listening. Everyone leans in to hear the juicy gossip, and you become the centre of attention. You are, in a sense, being crowned! You become the queen or king of this moment. But it's just a moment. If you are known as the type of person eager to speak badly of others or quick to share "the dirt" at any given time, you will not be the person others come to for advice or with whom they entrust their lives. After all, if you are so quick to speak badly of others, everyone knows that soon they will be your next victim.

The second person dying is the person you are speaking about - such people are going about their business innocently, oblivious to the fact that you are speaking about them and affecting the way others view them. Irreparable damage can be done with every word, whether the information is true or not. A person's reputation is certainly a major part of his or her joy of existence. Monetary wealth, by way of example, may be earned again but a reputation for honesty, integrity, and kindness is developed over years, and can be wiped away instantly in a flash of evil speech. Depending upon the circumstances, it may be nearly impossible to restore it to its original level.

Thirdly, the person who is damaged most of all is the person who is listening. Worse than gossiping is listening to gossip! We all know deep down that, although almost everyone does it, speaking badly about people is plain wrong. The person you are slicing up is being harmed to no end. Yet, we wonder, why in the eyes of God is the passive listener the one who is doing the most harm? The answer lies in the word passive. Of all three parties, the listener is the only one who has the ability to stop the evil speech in its tracks. The speaker has already made the decision to speak badly of others. The one being spoken about has no control over the situation. The listener is the only one who has the power to change the course of the conversation, which is why God puts the onus on the listener.

An example of this in the Torah is Miriam, Moses’s sister, who speaks Lashon Hara to Aaron and contracts Tzara’at.

So how does this connect to me - Being a thirteen year old girl in the year 2019 with social media rampant, the topic of Gossip, could not be more relevant. Unfortunately, many people like to spread damaging information or intimate details about others, whether true or not. People use gossip to hurt people, in order to feel good about themselves, and to feel like they have power over others. As mentioned, the most dangerous part about gossip is that it steals another person’s reputation. A reputation is very fragile. When you gossip, you are helping to destroy something extremely valuable. There is a simple test that one can apply in instances when you are confronted with what you believe to be ”Gossip” – challenge the person speaking to the triple filter test:

Before you talk to me about someone else - take a moment to filter what you're going to say. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?

The second filter is the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about someone else something good?"

And thirdly the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about someone else going to be useful to me?

Unless it passes all three facets of the triple filter test, it is gossip and stop yourself from participating.

On a personal note, I am most fortunate to have an older brother, Jordy, who never ever engages in Gossip. I so admire the goodness in him and that he leads his three younger siblings, Josh, Bobby and I by example.

On a closing note and in the spirit of humour, I have a few playful words:

Why was the well done steak a terrible gossip? It wasn't juicy enough!

Where do chimps get their gossip? On the ape vine!

A boss told his secretaries to stop gossiping and get back to work. To which one replied "We're not gossiping we're networking."

Thank you everyone.

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